Whenever someone tells me they're afraid of something as common as "clowns" or "dying alone" I just feel bad for them. Not because they may be suffering from a debilitating phobia, or processing some kind of unexamined childhood trauma, but because they haven't been awakened to the true human horrors like the following diseases and syndromes. Hold on to your butts, because I am about to present to you a real "Are You Afraid of the Dark"-type jam:

Oral-Fecal Contamination

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In Mandarin Chinese, there is a term that means, "to vomit and have diarrhea at the same time." I always thought this was super silly, up until the day I found myself desperately screaming it at a pharmacist in Beijing.

The list of pathogens that could be incubating on street kebabs is not short, and includes such heavy hitters as Hepatitis A and Typhoid Fever. These are diseases that are transmissible via fecal-oral contamination, which is as bad as it sounds. Bacteria and viruses that were sitting pretty in someone else's colon were able to enter your mouth via the miracle of lax foodservice regulations and poor hand-washing habits, and now you get to meditate on that fact as you expel both the contents of your bowels and stomach.

I think the most terrifying disease that is transmissible via oral-fecal contamination is cholera, which you probably suffered from while clicking your way through the Oregon Trail. An adult human living with untreated cholera will produce 3-5 gallons of diarrhea a day. Leave this untreated long enough and your blood will thicken and your skin will begin to turn blue from lack of fluids in the body. Think about that and just try to tell me fecal-oral contamination doesn't scare the crap out of you.

Locked-in Syndrome

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Your brain is almost completely fine. Your body is almost completely vegetative. Imagine waking up from a coma and realizing the only thing you can voluntarily move is your left eyelid. And there is a miniscule chance that you will ever gain more control over your body than that. However, you can still hear everything going on around you, and see every minute of the daytime television that is constantly playing in your hospital room. It reads like a living nightmare, and it can happen after a stroke or a traumatic brain injury damages nerve cells or denies blood flow to a structure on the brain stem that controls sleep, breathing and movement. Besides the obvious horrors associated with this disease, there are many other terrifying considerations that come into play here. Like, what do you do if you have an itch?

Guinea Worm

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You know that scene in Alien, when an alien bursts out of Susan Sarandon's torso? No no, that is not real. But don't get too comfortable there cowboy, because Guinea Worm operates in a similar fashion and is enough to justify some serious bodily discomfort. Its scientific name is "Dracunculiasis" which comes from the Latin for, "afflicted with little dragons."

Oh, hell no.

First, you get the parasite from drinking water that contains tiny fleas called Cyclops. The fleas die off in your stomach, but the guinea worm parasites remain there and breed. After cavorting about in your alimentary canal as if it were a sleazy motel, the males will die off and the female worm will hang around in the body near the bones in your limbs, and can get to be about 2-3 feet long and as thick as a piece of spaghetti. After spending some time quietly kicking it in your body, this worm will come to the surface of your skin in a boil that can only be described as extremely painful. People infected with this worm report a strong burning sensation that forces them to find a body of water to shove their burning boil in, and once this happens the guinea worm expels thousands of eggs into the water supply. Sly move, tiny gross body-dragon. There isn't any treatment besides slowly pulling 2-3 feet of writhing spaghetti monster out of your limb by twisting it around a match stick. The World Health Organization is working to make this the first parasitic disease to be eliminated, which sounds pretty fantastic to me.

Solipsism syndrome:

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What do you imagine happens when an astronaut is left alone for an extended period of time? After a period of intense reflection and all the shameless shower-karaoke you could ever want, I bet things start to get pretty lonely up in their brain-parts. Solipsism syndrome is a disorder that afflicts people left in isolation for prolonged periods of time in such a way that they divorce themselves from reality. It becomes nearly impossible to imagine that the world is something that exists outside of your own mind, and your whole life becomes one despairing and listless exercise in Freshmen Philosophy. People suffering from this syndrome live in a type of waking dream, where things cease to feel real or in any way meaningful. While lacking the pain or explicit trauma described in these other nightmare scenarios, I still find this syndrome to be truly terror-inducing. For the life of me, I don't understand how R.L. Stine forgot to write a Goosebumps novel about this one.

And there you have it: a brief smattering of things that chill me to my very core. I left blue whales off of this list because unless you are Captain Ahab-ing it around town they are pretty easy to avoid. Also I've been told they don't inspire the same kind of terror in others as they do in me. But maybe, as a closing thought, we can all take a moment out of our busy lives to appreciate that blue whales are mammals the size of a basketball court and live on our planet and suck 160 pounds of food a day through firm teeth-like mustaches. They're like giant Wilford Brimleys. How is that not terrifying?


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